LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Derby, the oldest continuously running sporting event in the United States, returns on the first Saturday in May after being fanless in September last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The coverage begins Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time on NBC Sports Network and continues at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time on NBC. Post time is 6:57 p.m.
Here’s what else you need to know about round 147 of the race:
Fans are returning, but attendance is limited.
The pandemic has devastated the 2020 Triple Crown schedule. The Belmont Stakes, usually the final stage of the Triple Crown, took place in June, the Derby in September, and the Preakness, usually the second of the three races, the last being a new date in October. All are returning to their regular places on the calendar this year and will allow a limited number of fans.
The derby regularly brings more than 150,000 people to Churchill Downs. While the organizers declined to set a set limit, they said the reserved seating, which typically holds around 60,000 people, would be limited to 40 to 60 percent depending on the seating area. A general admission ticket for the infield only was recently added, which is said to have a capacity of 25 to 30 percent. That would bring the amount to around 50,000.
The fans receive temperature tests at the gates and have to wear masks when they are not eating or drinking. All reserved seats include unlimited food and drink this year, a reduction in queues, and currency exchange. The organizers are also promoting the use of mobile apps to place bets even though the betting windows are open.
An undefeated favorite is at the head of the 19-horse field.
Essential Quality, the 2-year-old champion who is unbeaten in five starts, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line in what appears to be a somewhat balanced derby field with 19 horses. (King Fury scratched himself with a fever on Friday.)
After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, he won the Southwest Stakes on a sloppy track in Oaklawn Park in February and the Blue Grass Stakes in April with a neck over derby contender Highly Motivated.
With a win, he would be the ninth undefeated horse to win the Derby (the last was Justify in 2018) and only the third Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner (along with Street Sense and Nyquist). Essential Quality, a son of the leading sire Tapit, has a pedigree suitable for the one and a half kilometer distance of the Derby and he has shown versatility by winning on three courses and in different pace scenarios.
Brad Cox, who will also saddle the 15-1 Mandaloun shot, aims to be the first Louisville-born coach to win the race. A Derby win on his first attempt would limit Cox’s rapid rise to the top of the sport: the 41-year-old won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Coach last year after saddling four Breeders’ Cup winners and graduated 30 races Had won stakes.
“We were very fortunate to win two Kentucky Oaks, seven Breeders’ Cup races and an Eclipse Award. These are things I will never forget and which I am very proud of,” said Cox. “But the Kentucky Derby is number one and it would mean a lot.”
Essential Quality belongs to the controversial ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, whose extremely successful Godolphin racing empire is aiming for its first Derby win after eleven previous attempts. Godolphin’s best result was in 2015 when Frosted finished fourth.
Essential Quality is ridden by Luis Saez, who is 0-7 in the derby, despite having the thrill of winning for a short time in front of his mount in 2019 Maximum safety was disqualified due to interference.
No Lasix in the first step to ban drugs on race day.
Reduced capacity is not all that is different at the Derby: This year, next to the names of the runners, there will be no “L” in the program to mark the use of the drug Lasix on race day.
All Derby participants will ride without the drug for the first time in nearly 50 years to prevent the elimination of drugs on race day. And whoever crosses the finish line first will be the first since Grindstone 1996 to do so without Lasix.
Lasix, or furosemide, is used to prevent bleeding in the lungs during exercise. However, it’s also a diuretic that critics say has performance-enhancing effects that may allow a horse to run faster. Lasix, which can also be used by humans to mask the use of performance-enhancing drugs, is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list.
The use of Lasix in thoroughbreds has been common in North America since the mid-1970s, but is largely banned in racing around the world.
Last year, the owners of the tracks that host the three Triple Crown races – Churchill Downs, the Stronach Group and the New York Racing Association – agreed to end race day Lasix, starting with 2-year-olds, and the Breeders’ Cup has also introduced a ban on the drug. Lasix is still approved for use on race day with horses in the lower performance levels of the sport.
Other horses and people watching.
Todd Pletcher has four contestants in the Derby: Florida Derby winner Known Agenda (6-1 in the morning line), Wood Memorial runner-up Dynamic One (20-1), Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic (30-1) and the Jeff Ruby Steaks Second Sainthood (50-1). This is the sixth time the 53-year-old Pletcher has had four or more Derby starters in a given year. He saddled his first Derby horse in 2000 and comes into play that year with a record of 55 Derby starters. He won the derby in 2010 with Super Saver and in 2017 with Always Dreaming.
Bob Baffert, who won the 2020 Derby with Authentic, goes into the race with Ben Jones to get the most derby wins by a coach by the age of six. Baffert will try to do the record all himself when he sends out Medina Spirit (15-1) who will have the same jockey as Authentic, John Velazquez. (Jones won six times between 1938 and 1952.)
Kendrick Carmouche, who will be aboard Bourbonic, will seek to become the first black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby in 119 years. Carmouche knows the story of the African Americans in America’s most famous race: Oliver Lewis won the first derby in 1875, and black jockeys won 15 of the first 28 editions of the race, most recently Jimmy Winkfield in 1902. “I’m here means something to a lot of people,” he said . “We helped start this sport and I have the opportunity to remind people of it.”
In addition to the coaches and jockeys, there are always a few horses with funny names that attract the attention of weather and casual fans alike. The catchiest name this year belongs to Soup and Sandwich, which is owned by Charlotte C. Weber, the granddaughter of the founder of the Campbell Soup Company. Other attention-grabbers include two horses with Bourbon influences, Midnight Bourbon and Bourbonic (20-1); O Besos, who draws the O from his father Orb and the Besos, which is Kisses in Spanish, from his mother Snuggs and Kisses; Brooklyn Strong, bred in New York; and the generally memorable Hot Rod Charlie and Rock Your World.